eliminating local domain server - move to cloud

So I need some ideas.  We have a small SMB Windows 2003 domain server at a location with only about 6 computers.  The server is getting old and we need to decide if we are going to buy another server or find a cloud option.  What cloud options are there for a small business that does not necessarily want to spend a lot of money on cloud services.  Any suggestions?  Cost of purchasing another server vs. cloud solution?
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Cliff GaliherCommented:
Currently cloud isn't about cheap. It is about robust. To do a "fair" comparison and replicate the robust service you'd get with exchange online, for example, consider what it'd take to run four exchange servers, two mailbox in a DAG, two as edge, with each pair in a different geographic city, with a very high speed link between the two, all for six mailboxes. But compared to a small single deployment server? Onprem still wins on price, but online wins with reliability.

For most businesses, onprem is still a necessary reality for domain and file services. Internet connections and speeds aren't reliable enough to cloud those yet. There are SMB pricedservers for this market. The HP Microserver for example. You werent specific about how this server is used, so I'm just throwing info out there.

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Jason CrawfordTransport NinjaCommented:
What do you use the server for other than Active Directory?
al4629740Author Commented:
At this point active directory, QuickBooks server and share files
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Jason CrawfordTransport NinjaCommented:
Well there's the obvious drawback of Quickbooks.  If you don't have a central server of any kind you would be stuck with single user mode or moving to Quickbooks Online.  My wife is the only person I know in the financial industry so I only have her opinion to go off of, but apparently it's not quite the 1:1 experience you get with Exchange Online vs. Exchange on-prem so definitely try before you buy.  

If you move to the cloud you're going to have to create new Windows accounts for all your workstations since they login with their domain accounts (I'm assuming).  That can be a hassle even if you're using something like Forensit (www.forensit.com - awesome tool by the way).  You can host a Domain Controller in the cloud, but without at least a Global Catalog on-site things can get dicey with passwords.  If your current server shares print drivers you'll need to plan on installing them all on each computer or using one that never leaves the office to share them out.

I'd have to disagree with Cliff about the reliability.  If he had said redundancy then absolutely yes...Microsoft certainly has to have one of if not the most redundant instance of Exchange in the world.  I used to work inbound support for Exchange Online back in the BPOS days, and trust me when I tell you they put on their pants one leg at a time just like everyone else, and a sev A bridge is spun up around the clock for one issue or another.  No system is human proof.

File access speed is another consideration.  Right now your users are accessing your file server over a LAN which has much more bandwidth than what you would experience over a WAN (unless you're lucky enough to live in Austin, TX...thanks Google Fiber!)  You need to plan for repercussions of making that kind of switch when you start thinking about large files, Quickbooks company files, media files, etc.  The workaround for this problem is to host VDIs in the same cloud network as the file server.  This has the added benefit of cutting down on hardware costs since your end-users now only have to have a trimmed down computer or tablet with an internet connection to access their VDI in the cloud.

Now don't get me wrong, I love cloud computing, and I work for a cloud services company so I'm not knocking it by any means.  It sounds like you've already done the research on what the cloud can offer a small business like yours, I'm just offering some suggestions and possible gotchas I've encountered myself.  There's upside to both options, so don't sweat it too much.  Good luck.
al4629740Author Commented:
What's VDIs?
Jason CrawfordTransport NinjaCommented:
It's a virtual desktop. I just don't like saying virtual desktop because that's what there were first called back in the early 2000s when they were God awful.  Everything is much more streamlined now, and even when accessing a VDI on a mobile device browser they still perform like a high end workstation since you are just remoting into a separate platform that provides the look and feel of a Windows machine when in actuality it's one server.  Put that server hosting the VDIs on the same network as your file server and you're pretty much 100% hosted in the cloud with little to no hit in performance.
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